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Catching Up on Veronica Mars

Like Veronica Mars fans the world over, I waited with bated breath when creator Rob Thomas launched a Kickstarter campaign challenging fans to pay for the movie he’d been promising since the show went off the air in 2007. His fund raising goals seemed ambitious, but we couldn’t help but nurse high hopes—especially since the numbers on the Kickstarter started turning over faster than our eyes could follow once it went live.

He met his goal in under 24 hours and went on to blaze through a number of records in the 30 days of the campaign. That was it. We had our movie.

There are, of course, some flaws with the Kickstarter and crowdfunding model that do raise legitimate concerns about whether we want our media produced this way, and what kind of message it sends to creators and studios. Warner Brothers lost nothing by allowing Thomas to try, and gained a lot when that try was successful, while Thomas may have unwittingly lost a great deal by surrendering his funding to the masses. As a well-known producer with a beloved programme, he now faces the tough task of adapting it to film for an audience that thinks of itself as having a vested stake, of ‘owning’ it in small part.

And these are valid concerns, but the bigger priority for many fans is this: we’re getting our Veronica, and the rest of the team (at least most of them), back. Consequently, the announcement that the film was going forward launched the sailing of a thousand DVD sets (and Netflix queues) as we started watching and rewatching obsessively, immersing ourselves back in the world of a show that stopped airing five years ago as we got ready for the expected film release in 2014.

What is it about Veronica Mars that compels so many to adore this show so fiercely that they become rabid evangelists? It’s one of the pieces of television I consistently recommend to people across a broad range of tastes and backgrounds, because it’s good television—carefully plotted, meticulously constructed, and artfully shot—and because it contains fascinating and important embedded social commentaries.

If you haven’t been watching Veronica Mars, here is your chance to catch up and be left hungry for more so that you’ll be salivating for the film release like the rest of us. The story revolves around teenage Veronica Mars, fallen upon hard times socially when her father Keith Mars made a mistake in a the high-profile investigation of her best friend’s murder. In wealthy Neptune, California, there are stark class and race divides between the haves and have-nots, the rich kids and the people who serve them.

While Veronica may once have been among the elite because her father was an elected official, now she’s an outcast with a disgraced sheriff-turned-private-investigator for a father. She’s determined to find out what really happened to her best friend, and along the way, she’s solving crimes for her father’s agency, getting embroiled in problems at school, and coming up sharply against the social divides she never had to think about before.

Veronica’s friends are few and far between, but they make up a loyal band of misfits; kind of the classic outcasts against the world narrative, with geeks eventually prevailing, but the backdrop of a deep evaluation of class and society makes it stand out. This is a show where zip codes matter and ostentatious wealth is on display, but characters learn firsthand that wealth doesn’t buy happiness, or life, necessarily.

And it’s also a show about coming of age and teen sexuality; one of the themes that runs throughout the series is that of sexual assault, with Veronica’s own rape playing an important role in all three seasons. This is a marked departure from the usual treatment of rape as a hasty event to be quickly swept over. Here it has consequences, it has new angles that become apparent only later, and it has a lasting impact on how Veronica views the world and interacts with her peers. Veronica Mars has been hailed by critics interested in these subjects and rightly so, because it didn’t flinch away from tackling a seriously charged social issue.

Over the course of the series, we see numerous tangled and complex subjects, many of which are handled deftly and sharply, from growing up in an extremely conservative Christian household to child abuse to corrupt officials. Veronica Mars never backs down from a challenge, and much of the show has an intimate, immediate feel that illustrates how personally invested the creative team were in the production; a feeling that was only enhanced by distinctive lighting, cinematography, music, and staging.

The show was noir for the modern era, and it was this, perhaps, that ultimately made it struggle in the ratings race in an era where television seems to need to command huge numbers to be allowed to survive. Veronica Mars was dark, subtle, complex, an updated Nancy Drew, and all of the traits that made it so good made it inaccessible to some potential fans. Yet, years later people are still discovering the show and raving about it, which suggests that it may yet occupy a role as a television classic and much-beloved series, even though it was shortlived.

Veronica Mars is not without problems, naturally. While the multiracial casting makes it stand out from other Hollywood productions (including those set in Southern California), some of those characters inhabit troubled stereotypes; the few Latino characters, for example, occupy roles as criminals (though we do love Weevil), maids, and janitors.

Thanks to the popularity of the show among smart, savvy commentators, people have written numerous essays and academic papers exploring the subject of race and class in Veronica Mars, engaging with these issues and challenging some of the depictions in the show. It will be interesting to see if Thomas makes some adjustments in the film in response to these well-deserved critiques of characterisation on the show, thereby expanding the world of the characters even more.

Here’s to 2014. Popcorn’s on me.

One thought on “Catching Up on Veronica Mars

  1. I haven’t watched Veronica Mars, but I heard about its Kickstarter project. I work at DISH with a bunch of people who love the show and were following the project, and they were the ones who told me about it. Now I’ve been hearing great things about the show, including your review, and I think I’m going to have to check it out. All three seasons are available for rent from Blockbuster @Home through DISH, which has over 100,000 titles to choose from, so it’s always easy for me to find the show or movie that I’m looking for and I’ll be able to rent Veronica Mars as soon as I get some extra time.

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